Engineer Turns Internship into Full-time Job
Posted on July 7, 2023
#MyFirstJob is a series focused on recent graduates of the University of South Alabama.
During his first week as a full-time employee at Gulf States Engineering, Ramiz Yusuf made a field trip near Montgomery for a power plant project.
At the Central Alabama Generating Station, an 885-megawatt natural gas facility, his task was to design a new platform for valves and gauges. The young civil engineer found himself taking photos and doing measurements on an exterior staircase more than 50 feet off the ground.
“It was scary – I wish there was an elevator,” Yusuf joked. “It’s a pretty big power plant, and at first you look up and think, well, this is interesting. There are these outside stairs, they’re really steep, so when you’re going all the way up, it’s a pretty good workout.”
The University of South Alabama engineering graduate enjoys leaving the office and putting on a hard hat to visit job sites. Even in a world of virtual tours and sophisticated computer models, there’s nothing like a first-hand look at a project.
“It gives you the experience to visualize things, see how they’re built in the real world,” he said. “Just the fact that I can see it, design it, and know how it’s going to look. It’s a different feel. But it’s fun, it’s interesting.”
At South, Yusuf joined several student groups and was elected president of the campus chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was selected as the 2022 Alabama ASCE Student of the Year. And he did three internships with engineering firms.
After his Commencement ceremony in May, he took a month off before starting his first job. He had unfinished business in San Diego as co-captain of a bridge-building team from South that traveled to a national engineering competition.
Teams of students were required to design a 20-foot-long steel bridge that could support 2,500 pounds and be assembled in 30 minutes. The South bridge, which qualified for nationals at the Gulf Coast Student Symposium in March, nearly made the top 10.
“We had about 2,300 pounds on it, so we were just a few hundred pounds from passing, but it broke before then,” he said. “I was kind of sad at first, but then I was like, it is what it is. We never made this this far before, so we still made history.”
Dr. Eric Steward, associate dean for the College of Engineering, had told students that he would get a bridge tattoo if the team ever qualified for nationals. In San Diego, he made good on that pledge. Students such as Yusuf inspire him to make rash promises.
“First of all, he’s one of those self-motivated, wants-to-get-better-at-everything-he-does students,” Steward said. ““He’s selfless, does whatever needs to be done, and always makes everyone feel welcome. He’s just that guy.”
When Steward started an informal running group at Shelby Hall, the engineering building, Yusuf was one of the first students to start jogging around campus. Yusuf became ASCE president as a junior, but stepped down as a senior to focus on bridge-building and let another student lead the organization.
“He’s that kind of leader,” Steward said. “He gets it.”
South Connections in Mobile
Yusuf’s family is from Palestine. His first name is pronounced “RAH-mis.” He was born in Pensacola, but moved to Mobile when he was 4 years old.
His older brother, Mahmud, earned a degree in chemistry from South. His younger brother, Adam, just became a Jaguar.
Yusuf attended the Al-Iman Academy of Mobile, an Islamic school near the South campus. It was founded by Dr. Husam Omar, a retired associate professor of engineering at South. The school emphasizes mathematics and science and many of its students go on to college at South.
There were eight seniors in Yusuf’s graduating class.
“It was very small, but the schooling was really good, because they were able to focus on us,” he said. “I’m still close friends with all the people I graduated with. We still talk to this day.”
Yusuf began his college career as a pre-med major, but when that didn’t suit him, it was Omar who suggested that he try engineering.
“Ramiz, I’m so proud of him,” Omar said. “I’ve known him most of his life and the last couple of years, he just bloomed. He hunkered down and focused on his studies. The leadership roles and all that, he got into when he went to college.”
At South, Yusuf spent most of his time in Shelby Hall, where engineering students have 24-hour access to the building. “We did a lot of late nights and all-nighters,” he said. “Getting projects done.”
He also enjoyed the Glenn Sebastian Nature Trail on the north side of campus.
“Sometimes I’d walk, sometimes I’d run,” he said. “Relaxing and exercising at the same time.”
While a student at South, Yusuf did internships with Burns & McDonnell, a large engineering firm based in Atlanta, and Mott McDonald, a Mobile company that does highway designs and transportation projects. He used what he learned at those firms in the steel bridge-building competition, which also offered practical experience.
“You have to think about constructability as well as design,” he said. “You know, will this work? Can people build this?”
At Gulf States Engineering, he shares an office and works at a stand-up desk in front of a whiteboard. Besides his hard hat, there aren’t any personal effects. The one exception is an insulated cup that says “World’s 2nd Best Lawyer.”
Yusuf laughs when asked about the cup. He explains that it’s a souvenir from “Better Call Saul,” the television sequel to “Breaking Bad.” He enjoyed the bleak drama and comedy of both programs.
Right now, Yusuf is focusing on his career. He wants to make a seamless transition from South intern to staff engineer.
“They let me take about a month off,” he said, “but I wanted to start getting into the field.”
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